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On May 14, The Henry Ford recognized the 2020 winners of Invention Convention Michigan through a special awards ceremony hosted on our YouTube and Facebook channels. More than 2,600 students across the state participated in events leading up to the state final this year, with 155 students competing in the final competition. 


Thank you to staff who participated in judging this year, our sponsors, and congratulations to the students listed below who have been invited to compete at Invention Convention U.S. Nationals.  

Learn more about the winning inventions from the inventors themselves below along with our virtual awards ceremony.

Grades 3-5

Third Place: Falcon
Saiabhiram Akkaraju, Grade 5, Novi Meadows Elementary, Novi

Falcon (Flying Automated Litter Controller) is a Litter picking drone. 

Second Place: Dispens-a-Ramp
Diya Ural, Grade 4, Village Oaks Elementary, Novi 

The Dispens-a-Ramp is an invention to help big dogs that are having a hard time getting into cars (especially, SUVs). Dispens-a-Ramp is a bi-foldable ramp with a built-in automatic treat dispenser. When the dog puts its paw on the button, it triggers the treat dispenser to dispense the treat into the bowl. Each Dispens-a-Ramp could have few dispensing units.This encourages the dog to move further onto the ramp and finally, into the car.   

The main purpose of the invention is for the dogs to have a positive experience getting into the car. Hence, my motto is "One step to a Dog's Happy Journey". 

First Place: Filtere  – Water Filtration System
John Tewolde, Grade 5, Brendel Elementary, Grand Blanc

Filtere is a water filter that can be used to filter contaminated water. It uses three types of water filtration methods - Granular Activated Carbon (GAC), Ion Exchange, and UV light. This germ-killing combination gets all 30 of the particles that could end up in water. It can be used in any container of water, and cleans ALL germs within 30 seconds. Water contamination is a large problem in the world that affects more than two billion people. Filtere is an affordable and effective solution to this problem. 

Grades 6-8
Third Place: Piezo Power
Samvith Mahesh, Grade 6, Novi Meadows Elementary, Novi

When pressure is applied to some special crystal structure deforms, atoms get pushed around, hence generating electricity and is known as Piezo electric affect. Our project is designing products that uses this science as an energy producer using energy humans exert while doing daily activities. 

Second Place: Porch Pirate Preventer (P3)
Akhilesh Shenoy and David Tauro, Grade 6, Novi Meadows Elementary, Novi

Did you know that over 1.7 million packages are stolen daily around the world?  Our incredible Porch Pirate Preventer (P3) stops package theft of porch deliveries in a very cost-effective way.

Our device, which is made up of a chip, an accelerometer, a Piezo buzzer and a numeric keypad, uses a loud alarm to prevent thieves from taking delivered packages.  The chip is programmed using Python to make the accelerometer and Piezo buzzer work with each other.   

Once the package is placed on the homeowner's porch, the delivery person uses the keypad on the package to activate P3. He/she then sends a message to the package owner to let them know that the package is delivered and activated. Only the package owner can deactivate P3 using the keypad on the package.  If the package is moved or a wrong code is entered, a loud alarm is set off. 

Just as bottle returns work in many states, P3 is fully refundable for the package owner when returned to participating merchants. The company can then reuse P3 on future deliveries. So it's a win-win all around!

First Place: Reinnervate
Suhani Dalela, Grade 8, Independent Inventor, Saline

Reinnervate is an alternative medicine based instant fatigue reduction device. Using World Health Organization's standardized meridian points, this device provides instant energy to the user without disrupting the activity they are doing.

Grade 9-12
Third Place and Howard & Howard Patent Award: EcoRinse
Elizabeth Li, Grade 12, Huron High School, Ann Arbor 

EcoRinse is a robust, redesigned showering system that aims to reduce water waste in the shower. It redirects cold water that sits in pipes into the water heating system so that the cold water can be reused as hot shower water instead of flowing down the drain while the user waits for water to heat up in the shower.

Second Place: Perceive the Puzzle
Jayden Smith and Siena Smith, Grade 12, Huron High School, Ann Arbor

Perceive the Puzzle is a portable EEG for autistic individuals. The device allows caregivers to monitor brain activity, helping them to address episodes of stress quickly and easily. This is something that you can't find anywhere on the market and hits close to home for us. Our project was inspired by our Uncle Mark who was diagnosed with autism with he was four so we wanted to make something that would help him!

Grand Prize and First Place: AstroTrack: An Efficient Approach to Minor Planet Recovery, Detection, and Characterization
Anirudh Cowlagi, Grade 12, Huron High School, Ann Arbor 

Advances in the field of planetary science, particularly concerning our own solar system, have been dramatic over the last few decades. These advancements owe largely to developments in observing technology and more comprehensive astronomical surveys across the world. However, with these copious amounts of new data comes a need for more effective methods of analysis. This project offers a solution to the issue by presenting an efficient Python-based approach to aid with the detection, recovery, and characterization of minor planets in the solar system (asteroids, trans-neptunian objects, Kuiper Belt objects, etc.). 

21st century, 2020s, Michigan, inventors, Invention Convention Worldwide, innovation learning, events, education, childhood


Recently, I stopped by the building block “wonderland” that is Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks, a temporary exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

I watched children (and also adults) busily absorbed in designing their own Lego creation - choosing from 200,000 Lego bricks placed within the exhibit as a hands-on activity for visitors. Some kids were likely inspired by the impressive Lego models of famous skyscrapers and other buildings displayed there. Many kids immediately dove into the “bottomless pit” of Lego bricks, jazzed by the opportunity to build something wonderful from their own imaginations.

And children DO love to build things--whether they create imaginary worlds or smaller versions of the real one. Construction toys are quite literally and figuratively “the building blocks of childhood.” Playing with them builds physical and intellectual skills--and encourages creativity. Toy bricks, logs and girders are the stuff of playtime joy!

Over the last 150 years, entrepreneurs have introduced innovative construction toys that have delighted generations of children. Which is your favorite?

District School Building Block Set, 1876-1886. THF300131. (Gift of Mrs. Clemens August Haass)

After the Civil War, the Charles M. Crandall Company’s building blocks were all the rage. Like Lego bricks, they could be easily and securely linked together in a “thousand and one” ways. By 1879, Crandall offered 28 sets of interlocking blocks and jointed figures.

This “District School” set was a miniature version of a common childhood experience of the era: the one-room rural school. Crandall advertised that children would “laugh over this group of teachers and scholars” as they built the school and arranged the figures. The “District School” had playful appeal, combining entertainment with education--children could learn their alphabet while having fun.

Tinkertoys, 1914-1925. THF97403

Tombstone cutter Charles Pajeau noticed how much fun his children had sticking pencils into empty thread spools and assembling them into imaginative forms. So, he designed a shorter wooden spool with one hole drilled in the center and a series of holes along the edge. Kids could now build at angles and connect multiple dowels at once. Tinkertoys were born! In 1914, Pajeau started a company to produce and market the toy.

Erector Set, 1915. THF95319

As toy marketer A.C. Gilbert rode the train from New Haven to New York on business, he watched as workers erected an electrical system along the railroad line using steel girders that had been riveted together. This inspired Gilbert to design a construction set for older boys with metal girders, panels, wheels, gears, and pulleys. His marketing spoke directly to boys, encouraging them to build.

Boys used their Erector sets to build small versions of steam engines, Ferris wheels, zeppelins, bridges, elevators, trucks, cranes, and other devices. The toy not only delighted boys--it also appealed to their parents, who appreciated the way Erector sets could introduce their kids to careers in engineering. The company even offered “degrees” from its “Engineering Institute.”

Lincoln Logs, about 1960. THF6627 (Gift of Steven K. Hamp)

John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs. Introduced in 1916, these sturdy, miniature logs had interlocking notches. Lincoln Logs were named after Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a log cabin.

After World War II, Lincoln Logs got another boost as they became an iconic Baby Boomer toy. In the 1950s, nostalgia for the American West and the frontier had kids crafting log buildings with their Lincoln Log sets. With their nostalgic connection to America’s past, Lincoln Logs were marketed as “America’s national toy.”

Lego Building Set, 1976-1983. THF59

Legos, developed in Denmark during the 1950s, first appeared in the United States in 1962. With their small interlocking studs and tubes, Lego plastic bricks held together well - yet could easily be pulled apart. Lego bricks offered “no limits on what you can build.” Two Lego blocks could be joined in 24 different ways. Six blocks--over 100 million ways.

Lego bricks can be assembled and connected to create buildings, vehicles, and even human figures. Though the design and purposes of individual pieces have evolved over the years, each Lego brick--whether made in the 1950s or the present--remains compatible in some way with existing pieces.

Duplo bricks - larger sized versions made for preschoolers - debuted in 1969. They were easier for tiny hands to maneuver.

Over the years, Lego has created Lego sets with a variety of themes, including space, pirates, castles, robots, and the Wild West. They have licensed themes from popular cartoons, films, and video games--like Batman, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.

With their endless creative possibilities, Lego bricks have staying power--and fans worldwide. In 2000, Legos were named “Toy of the Century” by Fortune magazine and the British Association of Toy Retailers.

As a kid, I loved to design and build houses. Growing up, my siblings and I had Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and an Erector set. I rather envied my friend--she had Block City, pre-Lego plastic bricks with architectural details like doors and windows (which Lincoln Logs lacked). My grandmother (who sewed a lot) kept a box full of empty spools and some wood scraps for us to build with--we created imaginary “towns” all over her living room floor. She never seemed to mind.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum, making, LEGO, childhood, by Jeanine Head Miller, toys and games

Big and Little Bird reinforce the concept of contrasting sizes in this 1973 Playskool puzzle. THF97463

No television show has influenced how we think about children’s learning and thought processes as much as Sesame Street. For 50 years, this innovative TV show has continually broken barriers in its portrayal of diverse human interactions and relationships, its clever integration of Jim Henson’s wildly creative Muppets, and its rapid-fire approach to teaching basic educational concepts.

The idea for Sesame Street began back in 1966 at a dinner party hosted by Joan Ganz Cooney, a TV publicist turned documentary producer, and her husband Tim. In attendance was Lloyd Morrisett, who was both Vice President of the philanthropic Carnegie Corporation and an experimental psychologist interested in children’s education. At the dinner, Morrisett described his three-year-old daughter’s fascination with television—which included not only tuning in to Saturday morning cartoons, but also watching the pre-programming test patterns on the screen and reciting every commercial jingle by heart. Talk turned to the potential of television as a medium for educating young children. Could the seemingly addictive quality of TV be harnessed to both entertain and instruct?

This monster with the insatiable appetite—especially for cookies—has, under adult pressure, increasingly shown an awareness for healthy eating habits. THF97460

Cooney quickly developed a proposal entitled, “The Potential Use of Television in Preschool Education.” Her goal was groundbreaking at the time—to test the premise that TV could help level the playing field in education, preparing less advantaged three- to five-year-olds for school by teaching basic academic skills, self-esteem, and positive socialization. In March 1968, Cooney and Morrisett announced the formation of the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) and set out to create an educational TV show that would both appeal to young children and help them get a jump on learning. With an eight-million-dollar startup grant from private foundations and government agencies (including the rather skeptical Department of Education), Cooney was able to test ideas for the type of show she had in mind.

The colorful, fast-paced Batman TV show, which premiered in January 1966, provided one of many inspirations for Joan Ganz Cooney in creating
Sesame Street. THF6651

Cooney’s reference points included the rapid-fire pacing of the hip new adult-oriented TV show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. The campy breakout TV show Batman also provided a model, with its fast-paced action as well as its bright, bold colors and even its use of cartoon balloons. Cooney drew additional inspiration from short TV commercials, with their simple melodies in bright major keys. She did not get inspiration from most children’s TV shows, which she thought were dull, slow-paced, and seemed more oriented to adults than kids—with the possible exception of the kid-friendly Captain Kangaroo.

This 1970s Fisher-Price music box plays the song, “The People in Your Neighborhood,” while the
Sesame Street scene moves horizontally across the “TV screen.” THF135804

Cooney soon realized that, while she had plenty of vision, she needed help in writing, directing, and producing the show. For this, she called on several veterans from Captain Kangaroo—most significantly Jon Stone, who played such a significant leadership role in shaping Sesame Street that he took over as executive producer for the next 20-odd years. Other talented and dedicated scriptwriters, composers, and directors also joined the team, while psychologists and educators lent their support from the beginning.

Cooney and her collaborators initially created a show that included brief skits, musical numbers, cartoons, and live-action video footage—all basically teaching school-readiness concepts. The idea of portraying a diverse group of people living and working together in a community was intentional, providing a hopeful real-life model for an integrated society, which encouraged respect, mutual tolerance, and cross-cultural friendship. The live action scenes were interspersed with pre-taped “commercials”—that is, short “bits” about letters and numbers presented either as animated segments or featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets. The live-action segments were purposely kept separate from the pre-taped “commercials,” as researchers felt that combining these “reality” and “fantasy” elements would confuse children.

Having the sweetly quizzical Big Bird live in a nest near, and interact with, the live actors on
Sesame Street became a key to the show’s success. THF97451

Initial testing, however, revealed that children thought the live-action scenes were boring, the dialog tedious and lengthy. On the other hand, they found the short “commercials” to be catchy and memorable. Pushing back on the researchers’ advice, Cooney and Stone brought in Jim Henson as a full-time producer, while his Muppet creations Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch joined the live-action human cast. The resulting interaction between humans and Muppets—seamless and convincing—provided the missing alchemy. The foundation was laid for Sesame Street as we know it today.

Ongoing episodes about ultra-serious Bert and fun-loving Ernie reinforce to children that vastly different personalities can still be good friends. THF92308

The first episode of Sesame Street premiered on November 10, 1969 and the show aired weekdays on the new Public Broadcasting System (PBS) network. It was immediately hailed as a groundbreaking blend of learning and fun, despite some criticism about its high entertainment quotient, its threat to teachers for undermining early school lessons, and—in Mississippi—its initial banning because of its integrated cast. Time magazine featured popular Sesame Street character Big Bird on its November 23, 1970 cover, next to the headline, “Sesame Street: TV’s Gift to Children.” This issue devoted nine pages to the show’s impact and importance, calling it “the best children’s show in TV history.”

Puppeteer Kevin Clash breathed new energy and vitality into Elmo in the 1980s, but this furry red Muppet became a breakout star in 1996, when comedienne Rosie O’Donnell featured both Clash and this doll on her TV show. THF176791

As Sesame Street has continually changed and grown with the times, its popularity and impact have endured. Comedienne Rosie O’Donnell, whose remarks on her own TV show helped transform Elmo from a minor character to a superstar, described the show’s unique contributions this way:

"From the beginning Sesame Street encouraged imagination and playfulness. It always felt like a show to me about freedom, and it has always spoken to children in a pure and truthful way. Children are children, rich or poor, and there is a language of truth that is innate to these tiny, undeveloped beings that they can hear. Sesame Street had respect for its audience and respect for itself. They never cut any corners and they stuck to their democratic ideals."

Innovative, groundbreaking, and radical when it was introduced, Sesame Street has become nothing short of an American institution.

Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

1960s, 20th century, 21st century, 2010s, TV, popular culture, Jim Henson, education, childhood, by Donna R. Braden

Launching today from The Henry Ford, Innovate Curriculum helps students connect core subjects like STEAM, social studies and English to real-world applications through an interdisciplinary, hands-on online curriculum that accelerates 21st century skills development.

Innovate Curriculum leverages primary sources of The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation, an unparalleled collection of 26 million artifacts that sheds light on the way people have innovated across 300 years of history.

Learn more and register for a chance to win a free year of Innovate for your classroom here.

innovation learning, education, childhood, educational resources


As we continue to celebrate our first year of What We Wore--our new collections platform in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation--a new group of garments from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories makes its debut.


This season it’s all about kids.

Sailor Suit, about 1925
Sailor suits were popular from the 1870s into the 1930s—with short or long pants for boys and skirts for girls. These nautically-themed outfits were usually made of sturdy washable fabrics and, though stylish, allowed kids a bit more freedom of movement.

Jumper and Blouse, 1958–1960
(Gift of Mary Sherman)
In the 1950s, girls still wore dresses or skirts much of the time—for formal occasions and for school. Pants were play clothes—what girls wore after school to run around the yard or play indoors.

"Wrecker" Coordinating Shirt and Pants, 1978
(Gift of Diana and John Mio)
Designs with kid appeal often appear on children’s casual clothing— images like cars and trucks, princesses, dinosaurs, animals, butterflies, and monsters.

Blouse and Pant Outfit, about 1935
This girl’s casual outfit was inspired by adult fashion—beach pajamas, informal resort wear sporting wide pantlegs. Cheerful, pastel prints were popular during the Depression era.

Leisure Suit, 1977
(Gift of Diana and John Mio)
The casual and versatile leisure suit reached the height of popularity with adult men in 1977, when John Travolta wore a white version to the disco in the movie Saturday Night Fever.  Even kids donned this ultimate—and short-lived—1970s fashion trend.

Dress, about 1920
(Gift in Memory of Augusta Denton Roddis)
In the 1920s, simple dresses were preferred for younger girls. Linen fabric and pale colors were popular for summer wear. The understated details on this dress are embroidered, crocheted and tatted—the children’s mother was a skilled needlewoman.


The Building Blocks of Childhood

Children love to build things--whether they create imaginary worlds or smaller versions of the real one.  Construction toys are quite literally and figuratively “the building blocks of childhood.”  Playing with them builds physical and intellectual skills--and encourages creativity.  Toy bricks, logs, and girders are the stuff of playtime joy!

Entrepreneurs have introduced innovative construction toys that have delighted new generations of children.  Which is your favorite? For the LEGO fans, Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks, a first-of-its-kind, limited-engagement exhibition, is rising up in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation October 12 through January 5, 2020.

Erector Set No. 1, about 1915

Junior Tinkertoy for Beginners Set, 1937-1946

American Plastic Bricks, about 1955 (
Gift of Miriam R. Epstein)

Lincoln Logs, about 1960 (
Gift of Steven K. Hamp)

Lego Building Set, 1976-1983

Dream Builders Super Blocks Building Set, 1991-1992

20th century, What We Wore, toys and games, Henry Ford Museum, fashion, childhood, by Jeanine Head Miller

A happy family on a road trip inside their 1958 Edsel Bermuda Station Wagon. THF124600

Nothing epitomizes the 20th-century American family vacation more than the station wagon. After World War II, as family vacationers flooded the highways out to enjoy all that America had to offer, the station wagon became the quintessential family car.  Although they had been around for a few decades, station wagons by this time had become roomier, more comfortable, and more within the reach of family budgets. 

As shown in this circa 1953 Coleman brochure, station wagons proved the perfect vehicle for families who needed to haul lots of gear for their “back to nature” camping vacations.  THF275653

When limited-access turnpikes and interstate freeways expanded across the country during the 1950s and 1960s, sales of station wagons exploded. From three percent of all cars sold in 1950, sales of these cars mushroomed to 10 times that in 1955. By the end of the decade, some one in every five cars sold was a station wagon.

As family vacation trips lengthened, so did the time family members spent on the road together in the car. However, even though the ads claimed that vacations taken in a roomy, comfortable station wagon could improve family relations, this wasn’t always the case. Younger family members, in particular, inevitably got cranky and bored--threatening any attempt at family togetherness and fun. Enter a host of family car games and activities.

Mom and the kids read together in the back seat of the family car, with apparent disregard for “buckling up” for safety. THF275640

During the 1950s and 1960s, inventive game manufacturers, creative writers, and ingenious publishers devised all manner of family games and activities.  These were intended to keep family members occupied, reinforce family togetherness, and increase the fun of traveling together. 

Book of Ford Travel Games, free dealer giveaway, 1954. THF206270

During the post-World War II era, many of the car games and activities with which we are still familiar today were published and disseminated. This 1954 Ford dealer giveaway book was dedicated to the author’s four teenagers, “whose restlessness during childhood days first made these games necessary.” Most games in it, intended to be played by young and old, were the “scavenger” type, that would “help much to pass the time in an enjoyable manner” while “affording an opportunity for all members of the family to enjoy doing things together during the long hours on a motor trip.” The object of these scavenger-type games was to see who was the first one to find the items on the list, including car license plates, animals, sounds, and songs. Other games and contests included the classic I Spy game, a memory game called My Grandfather’s Trunk, and identifying shapes by looking at cloud formations.

Ford Game and Travel Book with stamps, 1959. THF275639

The 1959 Ford Game and Travel Book included games, songs, stories, riddles, and information enough to “provide hours and hours of pleasure for the whole family during the trip.”  It included 128 full-color stamps to affix to various pages.  The games and activities were much the same as those in the 1954 Travel Games book. 

Fun on Wheels book for AAA, by Dave Garroway, 1960.  THF275643

Dave Garroway, the founding host and anchor of NBC’s Today TV show from 1952 to 1961, was known for his easy and relaxing style. By the time this book was published in 1960 for members of the American Automobile Association, Garroway would have been a familiar name in most households. This book of “sit-able” games, quizzes, riddles, contests, puzzles, songs, and coin tricks “guaranteed miles of motoring pleasure” and was intended to “make any trip easier, safer, and more agreeable for parents and youngsters alike.”

Auto Bingo game, 1960s. THF140655

Auto Bingo, a product of the Regal Games Manufacturing Company from Chicago, Illinois, was introduced in the 1950s and proved incredibly popular during succeeding decades.  The classic game, shown here, is still produced today.

Traffic Sign Bingo, 1960s. THF140659

The popularity of the classic Auto Bingo game spawned many variations, like this Traffic Sign Bingo, with magnetic game pieces.

Ad for 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity Estate station wagon. THF275646


Although the OPEC oil crisis and tougher emission standards dealt a blow to the station wagon market in the 1970s, station wagons were still considered the family vacation vehicle of choice.  By the early 1980s, these vehicles had greatly expanded in size and comfort over their 1950s counterparts.  Manufacturers promoted their spaciousness, like this ad that likened the 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity Estate wagon to a family room!  This is, in fact, the very type of vehicle that was satirized in the 1983 film National Lampoon’s Vacation--although the Griswold family’s clunky green Family Truckster was actually a modified 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire.

Fisher-Price mini-van toy, a repackaged version of the company’s earlier mini-school bus, 1986-90. THF150890

While we may have chuckled at the Griswolds’ Family Truckster in 1983, the future of the station wagon as a family vacation vehicle was, in fact, no laughing matter.  Families would soon prefer roomy minivans, introduced in 1984, and fully-featured SUV’s in the 1990s, to haul kids and luggage on long-distance trips.

The family vehicle pictured on the cover of this 1985 travel game and activity book is more akin to a minivan than a station wagon. THF275648

As family road trips continued in subsequent decades, such innovations as portable music and gaming devices and in-car DVD players came to occupy and entertain family members during long trips.

A 1982 redesign of the original Sony Walkman, the first portable audio cassette player introduced in 1979. THF153124

But classic family games and activities persisted, in both traditional and newer versions.

This set contained 10 games (including Solitaire, Checkers, and Mini-Chutes and Ladders). Its interchangeable game board contained holes to hold peg-like game pieces in place. THF140658

Scrabble isn’t the best idea for a travel game, as letters are small and can easily get lost. Later versions of this game came with magnetic letters. THF106452

Today, we have a plethora of personal and mobile technologies to keep individuals occupied in the car on long-distance vacations (if they don’t opt for much speedier air travel). But these devices also separate and isolate members of the family. It’s nice to know that, if you want, you can still find classic family car games and activities online or available as digital downloads. And, of course, there’s still the old way of learning the classic games--passed down from parent to child.

Anyone for a rousing game of I Spy?

Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life, grew up in a large family and took many family vacations with her parents and four brothers in their Country Squire station wagon.

childhood, by Donna R. Braden, toys and games, cars, travel, roads and road trips


“I was angry at the world, but The Henry Ford changed my life. 
Every time I felt like giving up, the people here have encouraged me to do better. Because they saw something in me I couldn’t see for myself.” - Sylvia Maddox, 19 years old. Graduate of the Youth Mentorship Program, June 2019


“Celebration” was a word that echoed through the Youth Mentorship Program office frequently over the 2018/2019 school year, and with good cause. Going into its 30th year of existence next year, the YMP celebrated not only the accomplishments of 14 student participants, but four graduates; Ann Odom of Tinkham Educational Center in January, and Natalie Wilkie of Wayne Memorial High School, Sylvia Maddox and Jada Shorter of Tinkham Educational Center in June. All four graduates were accepted to colleges of their choice prior to graduation and are preparing to begin this upcoming fall.


The Youth Mentorship Program, a direct partnership between The Henry Ford and the Wayne-Westland Community School District, gives high school students the chance to earn additional credits and life experience by spending the second half of each school day working with a full-time employee of The Henry Ford, who volunteers to serve as a mentor. People learn in different ways and normal schooling isn’t for everyone; the YMP provides an atmosphere where students can succeed in an environment different from the traditional classroom. When the students graduate, they leave with strong communication and interpersonal skills, responsibility, and the awareness that they can succeed, reflecting the goal of the YMP to provide positive changes in young lives. This past year students have participated in placements at the William Ford Barn, Firestone Farm, Pottery Shop, Glass Shop, Call Center, and Institutional Advancement, Photography, and Food Services departments.


Over the past two years, with the assistance of our committed and generous donors, we have expanded the framework of YMP to increase educational and engagement opportunities for our students specifically catered to their interests. Our students have participated in campus tours of local colleges, with career guest speakers in employment fields of their interest, and Employment Boost workshops where they are thoroughly trained in resume writing and job interview skills. The YMP aims to ease the transition of life after high school for our students, and these new opportunities assist whether our students are heading to college, a school of trade, or the workforce.



Thirty years is an incredible feat for a program such as the YMP. The longevity of this program is a result of the strong partnership between The Henry Ford and the Wayne-Westland Community School District and their overwhelming commitment to student success. A phrase we hear time after time from present and past students is how the YMP is like a second family and further, home. We are incredibly honored to serve the students of the Wayne-Westland community and be a part of their journeys. The past 30 years of YMP has had a huge impact on not only the students it serves, but The Henry Ford as a whole. We look forward to seeing what the next 30 years bring!

Emily Koch is Program Director of the Youth Mentorship Program at The Henry Ford. The Youth Mentorship Program at The Henry Ford is made possible thanks to our partners at the Comerica Charitable Foundation and the Applebaum Family Compass Fund.


Michigan, school, educational resources, childhood, education, by Emily Koch

Characters Wembly and Boober in a pickle-shaped vehicle Happy Meal toy, 1988. This tie-in dates back to the
Fraggle Rock with Jim Henson’s Muppets TV show that debuted in 1983, but more specifically to the Fraggle Rock Saturday morning animated cartoon series that premiered in 1987. THF308669

The Under 3 (year old) toy from the Happy Meal Mac Tonight promotion, 1988.

Spring-loaded Mario from the Happy Meal tie-in to the Super Mario Brothers Nintendo video game, 1990.

On June 11, 1979, McDonald’s introduced its first national Happy Meal promotion. Called Circus Wagon, it included six different cardboard boxes designed to look like festively decorated circus wagons. Each box, topped with handles shaped like the familiar golden arches, held a kid-sized meal and included a small toy, or premium, inside. The toys, depicting McDonald’s characters, were simple: erasers, decals for plastic ID bracelets, and “doodler” rulers incorporating different shapes with which to draw along with the measured ruler. Who knew at the time what a phenomenon Happy Meals would become? As of this month, they have been with us for 40 years!

These rubber “Space Aliens,” featured in a 1979 Happy Meal promotion and made by Diener Industries, were also sold at retail stores as novelty pencil erasers.

This plastic “McWrist” wallet was part of a 1977 regional test promotion for the Happy Meal concept. THF175122

Although the origins of Happy Meals are a bit murky, McDonald’s officially credits their “invention” to Missouri-based advertising executive Bob Bernstein. After noting the success of a kid-sized meal introduced by a McDonald’s operator in Guatemala and market testing several variations in different cities, Bernstein opted for the Kansas City, Missouri, test version: “a hamburger, fries, soft drink, packet of cookies, and a surprise inside the happiest box you ever saw.” 

At the time, Bernstein was convinced that the container for the meal was the most important component. So, he engaged nationally known children’s illustrators to design the graphics, jokes, games, and stories that appeared on the boxes. Who knew back then that it was the “surprise,” the little toy inside, that would be the key to Happy Meal’s success? 

of six stunningly designed boxes from the Star Trek Meal, 1979. THF Z0064838

The Star Trek Meal
The 1979 Star Trek Meal marked a turning point in Happy Meal history, with the first Happy Meal designed to cross-promote a mass media feature, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the style of early Happy Meals, the boxes were striking, while the toys inside were still small and innocuous—a space ring, an iron-on transfer, a wrist bracelet, and a paper fold-out board game.

Navigation Bracelet and Starfleet board game from the Star Trek Happy Meal promotion, 1979.

All Aboard the Birthday Train!

Ronald McDonald driving the locomotive for the 15th-anniversary Happy Birthday Happy Meal train, 1994. THF319287

As McDonald’s began to focus on the toys rather than the boxes and to seek media tie-ins with their promotions, the popularity of Happy Meals grew by leaps and bounds. 

In 1994, McDonald’s celebrated the 15th anniversary of its Happy Meals with a special promotion of 15 premiums, each reflecting a different promotion from the previous years. These premiums could be interlocked to create a 15-car circus train—harkening back to the first national Circus Wagon Happy Meal promotion of 1979. Kids were surprised, then delighted, to find that when they moved the train along, each of them would spin, jump, or rotate on its own little train car. The Happy Birthday Happy Meal birthday train, part of The Henry Ford’s large collection of early kids’ meal toys, is featured here in its entirety. So hop aboard for a ride through the first 15 years of McDonald’s Happy Meals!


Barbie and Hot Wheels, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994.
THF319277 and THF319286.

These date back to a Barbie-Hot Wheels Mattel tie-in from 1991.  The pairing of Barbie and Hot Wheels proved so popular that it returned three times in the early 1990s.  This promotion was the first to feature 16 different premiums and the first to offer separate premiums for both girls and boys (though sometimes girls preferred the Hot Wheels to the Barbie). Each original premium came with a coupon for purchasing the full-size toy in retail stores. As part of the birthday train, this Barbie twirled around, while the Hot Wheels car revolved inside the drum.

ET, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319284

This figure references the 1985 re-release of the 1982 movie ET, The Extra Terrestrial.  The 1985 Happy Meal promotion featured four four-color posters that had to be hand-rolled by employees and secured with rubber bands as they would not fit into Happy Meal boxes. All royalties for the original promotion were donated by McDonald’s to the Special Olympics. As part of the birthday train, ET’s neck rose up and down.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319276

This 1994 promotion was a tie-in to both the release of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 videogame (Sonic was created to compete with Nintendo’s mascot, Mario) and the Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon which premiered in 1993. As part of the birthday train, the paper “screen” revealed different scenes as it revolved inside the “television.” 

Peanuts, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319292

This birthday train car commemorates the 1990 Peanuts promotion that featured different Peanuts characters in a farm setting.  That series marked the 40th anniversary of the Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles M. Schulz.  When pushed along, the organ “pipes” on this train car—shaped like a pack of French Fries—rose and fell. THF319292

101 Dalmatians, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994, THF319280

These figures represent the 30th anniversary re-release of the popular 1961 Disney film, 101 Dalmations.  The original 1991 Happy Meal promotion featured four poseable figures, including Cruella de Vil.  When this birthday train car was moved, the gift box lid opened and closed. 


Cabbage Patch Kids and Tonka, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994
. THF319288 and THF319289

These two figures harken back to the Hasbro tie-in from 1992 that featured both 5 poseable Cabbage Patch kids with “real” yarn hair and 5 heavy-duty mini-Tonka utility vehicles.  On the birthday train, the Cabbage Patch Kid’s horse rocked while the Tonka truck’s open-box bed lifted and dumped the present out.

Berenstain Bears, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319290

This birthday train car relates back to the 25th anniversary promotion (1987) of the beloved Berenstain Bear book series created by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Stories about Mama, Papa, Brother, and Sister were also featured on a Saturday morning cartoon beginning in 1985. As part of this train, the seesaw went up and down. 

Muppet Babies, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319291

Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies first appeared in a flashback sequence in the 1984 film, The Muppets Take Manhattan, then were featured in their own Saturday morning cartoon series.  The original Happy Meal promotion, with four Muppet characters each on a moving wheeled vehicle, dated from 1987.  As part of the birthday train, babies Kermit and Piggy twirled around.

Little Mermaid, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319283

A Little Mermaid Happy Meal promotion appeared in 1989, tied in with the release of the Disney animated film. The original promotion featured four Little Mermaid-related tub/bath toys. The first Disney tie-in actually appeared in 1987, featuring four activity books of classic Disney films.  When this birthday train car moved, Flounder “swam” in circles around Ariel.


Tiny Toons and Looney Tunes, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319285 and THF 319279

These two birthday train cars represent Warner Brothers promotions from 1991: Tiny Toon Adventures based upon the Saturday morning cartoon of that name and Super Looney Tunes—in which five different Looney Tunes characters came with add-on super-character suits. When the Tiny Toons car was moved, Babs Bunny placed a candle on and off the top of the birthday cake. On the Looney Tunes car, the pair of cymbals that Bugs is holding closed in and out around Daffy Duck’s head.

Caboose, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319278

The “Happy Meal guys” bought up the rear on the Happy Birthday Happy Meal caboose, 1994. When pushed along, the French Fry’s party horn moved in and out.

Teenie Beanies Conquer All
By 1997, McDonald’s had sold over 100 million Happy Meals. They seemed successful and popular. But then, between the short window of April 11 and May 15 of that year, Teenie Beanies were introduced, taking advantage of the Ty Beanie Babies craze. This promotion blew all previous ones out of the water. Families who had never even visited McDonald’s were suddenly waiting in long lines to order Happy Meals. For many kids who grew up in the 1990s (and their parents), it was the most memorable Happy Meal promotion ever. 

1997 Ty Teenie Beanie Babies in their original packages: Patti the Platypus, Pinky the Flamingo, Chops the Lamb, Chocolate the Moose, Goldie the Goldfish. THF175081

This promotion also firmly established the adult hobby of collecting Happy Meal toys. So many adults came in to purchase Happy Meals just to collect the Teenie Beanies—and so much food was wasted as a result—that McDonald’s began, from then on, to charge separately if customers just wanted to buy the toy.    

1997 Ty Teenie Beanie Babies in their original packages: Seamore the Seal, Speedy the Turtle, Snort the Bull, Quacks the Duck, Lizz the Lizard
. THF175082

While several series of Teenie Beanies were released after 1997, the 10 mini-versions of Beanie Babies from that year were the most successful. 

Still Going Strong
Though many other fast food establishments have offered kids’ meals and related premiums, McDonald’s Happy Meals have remained the most enduring and popular. They have not been immune to attack, especially by parents and healthy eating advocates, and there has been recent talk of repurposing kids’ meal toys into apps and digital downloads. Despite these trends, there is no denying the visceral quality of pulling out, unwrapping, and playing with a new Happy Meal toy. For 40 years, they have made kids happy, let parents enjoy their own meals, reflected popular trends, and become an inescapable part of our culture.

Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life, was one of those Moms who actually enjoyed waiting in long lines at McDonald’s for the thrill of getting the latest Teenie Beanies.

childhood, by Donna R. Braden, toys and games, popular culture, restaurants, food

Congratulations to all winners from the 2019 Invention Convention U.S. Nationals, presented by United Technologies! See the award ceremony for yourself above, and then read our complete list of winners here.

Michigan, Dearborn, Henry Ford Museum, 21st century, 2010s, inventors, Invention Convention Worldwide, innovation learning, events, education, childhood

"Monkees" Lunchbox and Thermos, 1967 (THF92313)

Beaver Cleaver may have carried a plain metal lunch box to school, but lunch boxes with pictures on them have been big business since the days of the Leave It to Beaver television show. Since the 1950s, children have been persuading their parents that they absolutely must have a school lunch box sporting their favorite character. For, to show off a Davy Crockett or a Beatles or a Star Wars lunch box to the world (or to your friends, which meant basically the same thing) when these were popular was simply the essence of cool. And, for young children, this is still true today -- only the characters and the lunch box materials have changed.

The first true pictorial lunch box was created in 1950, when a painted image of Hopalong Cassidy was applied to a steel lunch box and matching thermos bottle. In the first year of its production, Nashville, Tennessee manufacturer Aladdin Industries sold an unprecedented 600,000 of these, at a (not inexpensive) retail cost of $2.39.

Three years later, American Thermos introduced a fully lithographed steel lunch box depicting Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Sales of these reached an astonishing 2 1/2 million the first year, and these types of lunch boxes -- with pictures covering all sides -- immediately became the industry standard. The pictorial lunch box industry was off and running, and competition between companies became fierce. Over the next three decades, steel lunch boxes featured dozens of television shows, movies, popular musicians, sports stars, special events, fads, and famous places.

Pictorial lunch boxes made of waterproof vinyl wrapped around cardboard first came on the market in 1959. Their shiny, purse-like qualities lent themselves to pictorial themes marketed to girls, like the highly popular Barbie lunch boxes, introduced in 1961. Unfortunately, these could not stand up to heavy use -- their seams split and their corners crushed easily.

During the 1970s, vocal parents and school administrators began to complain that metal lunch boxes were to blame for students' injuries-enough so that, by 1987, lunch box manufacturers were forced to cease using steel in favor of safer (and cheaper) plastic.

Hopalong Cassidy, 1950
William (Bill) Boyd brought this fictional character to life, first at the movies then on television in 1950. "Hoppy" became the first television hero for many American children. This show precedes the major era of television westerns ushered in by Gunsmoke in 1955, when the huge popularity of westerns signaled Americans' nostalgia for a simpler past and their need for clear-cut heroes and villains during an uncertain time.

Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, 1954
On television from 1950 to 1955, this early science fiction show was a spin-off of a comic book and teen adventure novel series. The show, which took place in a futuristic world of scientific marvels, was made somewhat believable by the technical expertise of Willy Ley, an associate of Werner von Braun.

Rocky and Bullwinkle, 1962
Like The SimpsonsRocky and His Friends disguised adult entertainment in the form of a cartoon. The show aired from 1957 to 1963 during prime time, and with its clever, tongue-in-cheek scripts, it could well be considered the most subversive show about the Cold War of its time. From 1964 to 1973, the show continued under the new name The Bullwinkle Show, and it has since been entertaining children and adults alike through reruns and videos.

"Sock It To Me," 1968
Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In
 was a mid-season replacement in 1968, and no one expected it to be very popular. That's probably why its producers were able to experiment with virtually a new format-a rapid-fire pace using video editing and no narrative structure-and a new kind of hip topicality couched in one-liner jokes. Although its novelty is lost to us today -- the one-liners seem hopelessly outdated, even old-fashioned -- catch-phrases like "Sock It to Me" have become instantly recognizable cultural icons, while the show's short skits, slapstick humor, and use of topical material helped to revolutionize television.

Happy Days,
1976 (THF92322)
A mid-season replacement in 1974, this show had its origins in a 1972 Love, American Style episode and took great advantage of the popularity of the film American Graffiti. The first television show to take place in an era where television had already been invented, this version of the 1950s was embraced especially by young people who had not known the real decade first-hand. The show's true star was "The Fonz," who may have seemed like an unlikely role model but became television's biggest star for several years.

Sesame Street, 1983 (THF92308)
From the time this show premiered on PBS in 1969, it quickly established itself as the most significant educational program in television history. Envisioned as an entertaining show for preschoolers-especially those from underprivileged backgrounds-to help prepare for school, Sesame Street incorporated the rapid-fire style of both television commercials and television programs like Laugh-In. With its consistently high quality and humor geared toward both children and their parents, this show continues to be extremely popular today.

Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. 

20th century, TV, school, popular culture, music, movies, food, childhood, by Donna R. Braden